Back on the Horse

Recently, I played my first live gig since my university days.

I’ll admit to having become a studio monkey. Owning and running a studio has made certain things easier. Most notably, I get to record my own work between client bookings, a luxury if ever there was one! But it has made me less inclined to search out live shows. I can get away with blaming my studio timetable, but in all honesty, it was part comfort, part finding the time and part laziness. It’s just so much easier to do what is readily available in life as opposed to searching out the new.

It turns out, the new found me. I was contacted by the venue via my internet profile on “Reverbnation”. They needed an acoustic act, and they found me. Strangely, they managed to jump the gun on the timescale I had imbedded in my head by about one week. To explain:

I decided a few months ago to get back on the horse as far as gigs are concerned. To this end, I planned the live session YouTube videos I have recently started posted online (http://www.youtube.com/user/TheJamesNighthawk/videos).

The idea here was two-fold. Firstly, I wanted to ensure I could indeed still cut it live – shoving a video camera in my face and recording the results seemed like a perfect test! And secondly, I would have something to show gig venues, something that would show them exactly what they were booking. My recordings until this point were all studio affairs. Not only does this mean that they are polished, they also have larger arrangements than I can muster on stage with one guitar and a mic.

Well, as explained, the gun was jumped, and this gig was booked without the videos. So the next stage was prep. First, I needed to choose the set list. This was surprisingly straightforward. I simply chose the strongest 8 songs that worked with a simple guitar/vocal arrangement. Then the order was set, with the standard “ebb and flow”. Strummed songs and softer finger-picking numbers were alternated to keep the dynamics moving. VoilĂ ! Or so I thought. But more on that later….

Rehearsing was next. This would be simple surely? I play most days anyway, so there is little to do here one would think. Well, it turns out that playing through a PA would be interesting for someone who rarely “plugs in”. The tone of the guitar, the amplification of my voice back at me, along with the general volume increase, all served to throw me an unexpected curve ball. Fortunately, a few hours and I was set, enjoying the variation in fact!

I discovered another interesting fact during rehearsal regarding lyricism. More precisely, the task of setting lyrics to memory without using my songbook. A note here to fellow songwriters – there is a hidden bonus of writing songs with narratives. They are much easier to set to memory! The tunes which I had to make an effort to imbed in my memory bank all had more “obscure” lyricism, or simply lacked an A to B movement of narrative. Those that tell stories seem to flow stanza to stanza and so clicked into place with far more ease. Something to think about for future composition perhaps…

So, the day arriveth.

An odd run of sensations started mid morning. The strange feeling in one’s stomach, not a little connected with a lack of appetite. A tendency to over think the simple. A lack of general concentration. Fidgeting. A body temperature setting its own course.

Yup, I was nervous. I had forgotten about the pre-show jitters. No matter. My level-headedness prevailed and I told myself to stop being silly. I have done this many times before. I’d be fine. Sure enough, once I had arrived at the venue, sound checked and met the other musicians, all was well and I was relaxed once again. Raring to go even!

I was second on stage of three. Following a lovely set from local singer songwriter Zoe Phillips (@zoephillips18 on twitter) I headed back stage for a final tune up. On returning the crowd had swollen somewhat. From an initial 30 or so onlookers, I was staring out on a crowded room, easily pushing 120. Good stuff I thought! Well, I was mostly right.

The only negative of the proceeding 30 minutes was that in front of me stood a slightly sloshed Saturday night crowd, there in the most part to hear the rock band headlining. As such, out went the set list after a couple of songs, and in its place I played the loudest strummers I had, including a couple of Beatles crowd pleasers. Whilst this was not the plan, it was still thoroughly enjoyable. The crowd seemed to really enjoy it and the feedback was unanimously positive.

30minutes flew by in a blur. Muscle memory took over in both my hands and my vocal chords (no small mercy considering the volume of crowd chatter against which my stage feedback was competing!) I came offstage smiling.

That night, the high, the buzzing, resonated through till early morning. Something else I had forgotten. I get the feeling gigging might become a more regular fixture on my calendar going forward.

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